In a galling pivot, Scott Morrison hopes he can peek under the bonnet of an EV and be accepted as a convert
Not so long ago Morrison said Labor’s electric cars policy would ‘end the weekend’. Now he’s spruiking his own plan, but there’s no substance to it
It’s hard to say which element of Scott Morrison’s new electric vehicle strategy is most galling.
If you missed the unveiling on Tuesday, there’s not much to catch up on, given the strategy has all the substance of a Corn Thin.
The Coalition’s “strategy” for electric vehicle take-up contains $178m of government spending on EV infrastructure but no new policies, just like its “Australian Way” plan to achieve net zero emissions by 2050.
It rebuffs calls for vehicle emissions standards and provides no market signal to incentivise take-up – the two measures viewed by experts as the most important to drive change.
But while a policy document three years in the making that is entirely bereft of substance is certainly offensive, it is nowhere near as galling as the way in which Morrison expects voters to forgive and forget the Coalition’s position on electric vehicles ahead of the 2019 election.
For those who need a reminder, Morrison shamelessly claimed that Labor’s policy, which set a target of half of all new cars to be electric by 2030, would “end the weekend” and lead to apartment dwellers dangling extension cords out of their windows.
“It’s not going to tow your trailer. It’s not going to tow your boat. It’s not going to get you out to your favourite camping spot with your family,” Morrison said at the time.
A hyperbolic Michaelia Cash, then the small business minister, pledged to “stand by our tradies and … save their utes” from Bill Shorten’s grasp.
The rhetorical absurdity was backed up by Liberal party advertising on Facebook that claimed “Labor’s car tax” would hike up the price of Australia’s favourite cars.
On Tuesday, when Morrison was asked by journalists how he could “honestly spruik electric vehicles” after campaigning against them so vigorously at the last election, he suggested this very obvious statement of fact was a “Labor lie”.
“But I didn’t. That is just a Labor lie. I was against Bill Shorten’s mandate policy, trying to tell people what to do with their lives, what cars they were supposed to drive and where they could drive,” Morrison said, lying about his lie with another lie.
When presented with remarks he made on 2GB radio about having to “run the extension cord down from your fourth floor window” to charge a car, Morrison claimed his position had changed in line with the “massive change in the technology over the last few years”.
The prime minister’s chutzpah knows no bounds.
In a warm-up act for the election campaign, Morrison has been on the ground this week arguing for “choices, not mandates” and “technology not taxes”, saying Labor has a plan to force Australians to do things they don’t want to do.
“I don’t have to tell them to get rid of the car they’ve got now. That’s what Labor wants to do. I’m not going to put up the price of petrol on families and make them go and buy electric vehicles,” he said.
“We’re not going to tell them what to buy. We’re not going to tell them where to drive or where they can’t drive.”
Ah, no. And nor will Labor.
Quite a feat, really, to launch a scare campaign on Labor policies that don’t exist yet.
After telling voters that government support for electric vehicles would upend their very way of life, Morrison is now hoping that he can peer under the bonnet of one and be accepted as a genuine convert.
It forms part of a broader pivot on climate change policy that seeks to erase from the collective consciousness a decade of Coalition fear-mongering on the emissions reduction task that the Liberal and National parties have unapologetically and repeatedly used for political gain.
Morrison is cynically relying on a disengaged electorate to try to get away with the conversion, as the government – or more accurately, the government pollsters – acknowledge that the jig is up.
After a decade of inaction and denial on climate change policy, there is much catching up to do to put Australia on the path to achieving carbon neutrality.
But as with Morrison’s net zero commitment, his EV strategy appears nothing more than a box-ticking exercise for a policy area that most Coalition MPs wish would go away.
Heaven forbid that Morrison’s political conversion on climate policy would actually translate to doing something about it.
Doing nothing, remember, is the Australian way Morrison prefers.